By Rituparna Chakraborty
Education has been heralded as the common man’s path to livelihood and upward mobility. Parents aspire to give their children the best education they can afford so that their children can carve out a career path and succeed in the world of work. In the Indian context, a good education has always been equivalent to a successful career with learning and knowledge being added benefits. However, the recently released India Employability Report raises serious concerns with respect to the utility of traditional degrees when graduate and post-graduate and above, unemployment soars at 16% and 14% respectively. Ironically those with higher levels of education contribute to account for over 30% share of unemployment in the country. Along with the high levels of unemployment, another major challenge is underemployment where a whopping 83.3% of non-agricultural employment was in the informal sector engaged in low-productivity jobs with poor wages. These disturbing numbers exhibit the shortcomings of the traditional college degree which has failed to deliver its promise. The NEP recognizes the need to plug this wide gap between education, training, and employment in India. The education system in the country needs to deliver educational outcomes which are in tandem with the needs of the industry to facilitate successful economic trajectories.
Degree Apprenticeship Vs. Traditional College Degree
Degree apprenticeship programs provide the perfect solution to redressing the formidable trifecta of employability, under-employment, and skill shortage. These programs offer a full degree course designed to cater to the needs of the industry combined with hands-on skill-based training to inculcate the skills needed to make these students employable. Degree-linked apprenticeships are designed to provide numerous advantages such as earning while learning, learning by doing, learning with flexibility, learning with modularity, and learning by signaling value. These programs increase access to education for socially disadvantaged youth by enabling them to contribute to the family income even as they learn. This will help to remove the pressure to join the workforce early and thus they can invest time in acquiring skills in the field as well as the classroom. The modular system offered by these programs can allow students to enter and re-enter the education and skills ecosystems to reskill and upskill themselves constantly. Most importantly these programs by enabling career growth and progression will help counter the common bias that favors academia and cognitive occupations over vocational education and manual occupations. In the words of renowned American economist Paul Krugman from his book “The Age of Diminished Expectations, “Productivity isn’t everything, but in the long run, it is almost everything.”
Apprentices embedded in higher education: Time-tested model to economic success
Apprenticeship programs are nothing but a formalization of India’s long-cherished guru-shishya tradition of imparting knowledge and training to new generations of workers. Skill and craft training has always been passed down generations but was not codified as apprenticeship or skill. This has been rectified by law to ensure that apprentices are considered trainees and not workers. They are therefore not to be treated as workers; however, the responsibility for the health and security of apprentices rests with the establishment. Apprenticeship programs fall within the purview of the Ministry of Education and are thus a bona fide path to a legitimate career. The proposed changes via NEP and the National Credit Framework (NCrW) will further strengthen and bridge the gap between education and skill development in the coming years.
Developed countries across the world from Germany to the United States have acknowledged the intrinsic value of learning by doing and earning while learning. Germany has the largest apprenticeship program in the world while the US is seeking to expand access to apprenticeships in a bid to improve the lives of millions of Americans. India’s 371 million youth population is larger than the entire population of every other industrialized country in the world. This heterogeneous group of youth from different socio-economic and social groups comprises our demographic dividend which needs to be nurtured and prepared for the workforce. Degree apprenticeships will encourage young people to enroll in a longer-term degree or diploma programs and thus equip them with the education and skills necessary for better employment opportunities. These programs designed in tandem with the industry can correct the misalignment between what youth are learning and the requirements of the job. Doubling the number of apprentices from 5,00,000 to 10,00,000 per year, and setting an initial target of 10 million apprentices in ten years, is a desirable goal that will put India on the path to becoming the skill capital of the world.
The author is co-founder, executive director at TeamLease Services.